David McCampbell

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David McCampbell
David McCampbell.jpg
David McCampbell
Born (1910-01-16)January 16, 1910
Bessemer, Alabama
Died June 30, 1996(1996-06-30) (aged 86)
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1933–64
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Captain
Commands held VF-15
Carrier Air Group 15
USS Bon Homme Richard
Battles/wars World War II
Awards David McCampbell Ribbon.gif
Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Silver Star
Legion of Merit with Combat “V”
Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Air Medal

Captain David McCampbell (January 16, 1910 – June 30, 1996) was an American naval aviator, Medal of Honor recipient, and the US Navy’s all-time leading ace with 34 aerial victories during World War II. The third-highest scoring US flying ace of World War II, he was the highest-scoring ace to survive the war.

McCampbell was born in Bessemer, Alabama, and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. He attended the Staunton Military Academy and one year at the Georgia School of Technology before his appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated with the class of 1933.

Military service[edit]

Following service aboard a cruiser, 1935-37, McCampbell was accepted for flight training. He received his "wings of gold" in 1938 and was assigned to Fighting Squadron Four on the East Coast. Subsequently he became a landing signal officer and survived the sinking of USS Wasp (CV-7) off Guadalcanal in September 1942.

McCampbell formed VF-15 on September 1, 1943 and led the squadron before being assigned as Commander of Air Group Fifteen in February 1944 to September 1944. As Commander Air Group (CAG) 15, he was in charge of fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. From April to November 1944, his group saw six months of combat and participated in two major air-sea battles, the First and Second Battles of the Philippine Sea. During the more than 20,000 hours of air combat operations before it returned to the United States for a rest period, Air Group 15 destroyed more enemy planes (315 airborne and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy shipping than any other Air Group in the Pacific War. Air Group 15’s attacks on the Japanese in the Marianas and at Iwo Jima, Taiwan, and Okinawa were key to the success of the “island hopping” campaign.

McCampbell's F6F-5 Hellcat Minsi III decorated with Japanese flags representing aerial victories

In addition to his duties as commander of the “Fabled Fifteen,” then Commander McCampbell became the Navy’s “ace of aces” during the missions he flew in 1944. McCampbell flew at least four Grumman F6F Hellcats while aboard the Essex: an F6F-3 named Monsoon Maiden (damaged by AA, removed from service on 20 May 1944), an F6F-3 named The Minsi (10½ kills), an F6F-5 named Minsi II, and an F6F-5 named Minsi III (Bureau Number 70143), in which he scored the last 23½ of his 34 kills.

On June 19, 1944, during the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," Commander McCampbell shot down five Japanese 'Judy' dive-bombers, to become an "ace in a day". Later that afternoon, during a second sortie, McCampbell downed another two 'Zekes' over Guam. On October 24, 1944, he became the only American airman to achieve "ace in a day" status twice. McCampbell and his wingman attacked a Japanese force of 60 aircraft. McCampbell shot down nine, setting a U.S. single mission aerial combat record. During this same action, his wingman downed another six Japanese warplanes. When he landed his Grumman F6F Hellcat aboard USS Langley (Essex's flight deck wasn't clear), his six machine guns had two rounds remaining and his airplane had to be manually released from the arrestor wire due to complete fuel exhaustion.[1] Commander McCampbell received the Medal of Honor for both actions, becoming the only Fast Carrier Task Force pilot to be so honored.

Aerial victories[edit]

Date Total Aircraft Types Claimed (location)
11 Jun 1944 1 A6M Zeke destr. (Saipan, Marianas Is.)
13 Jun 1944 1 Ki-49 Helen destr. (Saipan, M.I.)
19 Jun 1944 5 D4Y Judys destr. (1st sortie, Marianas Turkey Shoot, Philippine Sea)
19 Jun 1944 2 A6M Zekes destr. (2nd sortie, Guam, M.I.)
23 Jun 1944 A6M Zekes destr. (1 shared-credit w Ens C.Plant) (Orote Af, Guam, M.I.)
12 Sep 1944 4 2 x A6M Zekes, 1 x J2M Jack, 1 x Ki-46 Dinah destr. (Cebu Af, Philippine Is.)
13 Sep 1944 3 1 K5Y Willow, 1 Ki-43 Oscar & 1 B5N Kate destr. (Negros Is., P.I.)
22 Sep 1944 1 G3M Nell destr. (Manila Bay, P.I.)
23 Sep 1944 ½ F1M2 Pete destr. (credit shared w Ens R.Nall) (Cebu Is., P.I.)
21 Oct 1944 2 1 Ki-46 Dinah, 1 K5Y Willow destr. (Tablas Is., P.I.)
24 Oct 1944 9 5 x A6M Zekes, 2 x A6M3 Hamps & 2 x Ki-43 Oscars destr. (Leyte Gulf, P.I.)
05 Nov 1944 2 1 D3A Val & 1 A6M Zeke destr. (Nichols Field, P.I.)
11 Nov 1944 1 Ki-43 Oscar destr. (Ormoc Bay, P.I.)
14 Nov 1944 1 Ki-43 Oscar destr. (Manila Bay, P.I.)

For his service in command of Air Group 15, McCampbell received the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, Legion of Merit with Combat “V”, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Gold Stars in lieu of the second and third awards, and the Air Medal.

Following World War II, McCampbell had several postings. He returned to the United States in March 1945 and served as Chief of Staff to the Commander Fleet Air at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, until January 1947. He then attended Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, and remained as an instructor after graduating. He served as the Senior Naval Aviation Advisor to the Argentine Navy, stationed at Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 1948 to January 1951, and then served as Executive Officer aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) from February 1951 to March 1952. His next assignment was as the Planning Officer on the Staff of Commander Aircraft Atlantic from March 1952 to July 1953, and then as commander of the Naval Air Technical Training Center at Jacksonville, Florida, from July 1953 to July 1954. He then commanded the fleet oiler USS Severn (AO-61), followed by the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). Capt McCampbell was then assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, from 1960 to September 1962. His final assignment was as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to the Commander in Chief of Continental Air Defense Command, where he served from September 1962 until his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1964

Captain McCampbell retired from active duty in 1964. He died in 1996 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.


An Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS guided-missile destroyer, the USS McCampbell (DDG-85), and the passenger terminal at the Palm Beach International Airport are named in his honor.


Medal of Honor citation[edit]

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to

Rank and Organization: Commander, United States Navy, Air Group 15. Place and Date: First and second battles of the Philippine Sea, June 19, 1944. Entered Service at: Florida. Born: January 16, 1910, Bessemer, Ala. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars, Air Medal.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commander, Air Group 15, during combat against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. An inspiring leader, fighting boldly in the face of terrific odds, Comdr. McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our fleet on June 19, 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed 7 hostile planes during this single engagement in which the outnumbering attack force was utterly routed and virtually annihilated. During a major fleet engagement with the enemy on October 24, Comdr. McCampbell, assisted by but 1 plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of 60 hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down 9 Japanese planes and, completely disorganizing the enemy group, forced the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the fleet. His great personal valor and indomitable spirit of aggression under extremely perilous combat conditions reflect the highest credit upon Comdr. McCampbell and the U.S. Naval Service.


McCampbell often is listed as "David S." but he had no middle name and hence no middle initial, as demonstrated by his Annapolis record and Medal of Honor citation. McCampbell's son, also named David, is also a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He commanded the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida and retired with the rank of Commander. McCampbell has a grandson, Christopher David McCampbell, of San Diego, Ca. Captain McCampbell was related by marriage to movie star Wayne Morris, who also became a VF-15 ace.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McCampbell's memorable actions on 24 October 1944 are documented in Edward H. Sims' book Greatest Fighter Missions, as the tenth chapter of that compilation.